Why Germany Should be on Your List

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” -George Santayana

This summer I visited three cities in Germany. I went there for two purposes, see a concert and visit a friend. I’ll admit Germany was never on my list and I don’t know anyone whose list it is on however, after visiting I wish I had gone sooner. If Germany is not on your list, here is eight reasons why it should be…

History

It is no secret that Germany is rich in history. For many of us World War II and the Holocaust is the most memorable. But, I also remember watching when the Berlin wall came down on television in 1989. I was 12 years old and we discussed it the next day in school.

Here are just a few of the historical sights in the three cities that I visited- Koln also better known as Cologne, Hannover and Berlin.

Koln- El De Haus- Former headquarters of the Gestapo. Prisoners used to be held in the basement and people on the streets could hear their screams
Berlin- Checkpoint Charlie- Former border crossing
Berlin’s only surviving historical city gate, this site came to symbolise Berlin’s Cold War division into East and West – and, since the fall of the Wall, a reunified Germany. Brandenburg Gate
Berlin- Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe
Berlin- Reichstag building- seat of Parliament
Berlin Wall Memorial
A piece of the wall with a strong message

If the historical symbols around Germany don’t move you, nothing will.

Another piece of the wall that touched me
Berliner Fernsehturm

Architecture

Many European styles are reflected in German buildings, medieval, roman, gothic, etc… There doesn’t seem to be one distinctive style. A lot of the East/West history is reflected in the architecture and there is something different around every corner which makes it’s buildings very interesting to look upon.

Koln Cathedral
House that looks like leggos
The New City Hall- Koln
Old Town Hall, Hannover Germany
The view from Hotel Pestana Berlin- Accommodations covered in moss green, very eco friendly

Cleanliness

Germany is a very clean country. I witnessed this in each of the three cities: Koln, Hannover and Berlin. I don’t know about the rest of Germany but I was pretty impressed by the cleanliness of the streets, public transportation and I need to mention this, self-cleaning public toilets.

Parks, Gardens and Romance

Germany is also very pretty. I found the parks to be very romantic and well-maintained. Speaking of Romance, love is locked-in all over Germany. And to top it all, Koln is where Eau de Cologne originated.

Koln- Farina 1709 Fragrance Museum, where cologne was invented
This Bridge is in Maschsee Park in Hannover, people used to put love locks on the railings but they have been removed.
But don’t worry you can still hang locks in Koln- Hohenzollern Bridge- Lots of Love locks
Us after locking in our love in Koln. This is the third place we have locked in around the world.
Berlin- Herrenhauser Garten
Posing like the statues but I got photobombed
More of Herrenhauser
Herrenhauser Garten Palace
Hannover- Maschsee park
Hannover Maschsee park

Public Transportation

I must mention the transportation system in Germany. We took both buses and trains and both were efficient, timely, easy to navigate and clean. They have sections for strollers and fold down seats for the elderly. They have family transportation passes as well. I don’t know how that works fully but as long as my husband and I were with my friend, whom is a resident, we were able to ride the buses and local trains under her pass. Their transportation system uses an honor system but you should buy your tickets and have them available in case they ask for it. We were not asked to show our tickets but once, and that was on the regional trains.

Beers, Bars, Festivals and Concerts

Germans love their beer and it is a major part of the culture. Germany is the top producer of beer in Europe and follows an old 500+ year old Beer Purity Law -only 4 ingredients can be used to make German beer. You can drink it in public too. I mean it is home to Oktoberfest. Beer gardens are big in Germany and your beer glass depends on the beer type you order. *Word of advice- when visiting a beer garden and there are live bands, don’t talk loudly over the music, you will get shooshed.

Festivals pop up all over Germany and you must try the food at the festivals. (We will get into the food in a minute) Germany is also a great place to attend a concert. I was hesitant about attending a concert in Germany because of things I had heard like -they don’t like to speak English, they don’t like black people. Let me tell you, don’t listen to what people say. You must experience things on your own. I would attend another concert in Germany in a heartbeat. I went to see Pink here. Seeing Pink in concert was one of my dreams, so I took a chance in attending a concert in a foreign country despite neigh-sayers. My husband and I had a blast and we were in good company. We felt very safe and comfortable and even walked back to our hotel afterwards (late at night) which was about a 30 min walk but we weren’t alone because many people walked. The crowd was lively and friendly. Pink puts on the best show!!

No words necessary
One of the reasons I went to Germany in the first place
Festival in Hannover
Oldest Biergarten in Berlin. The day we went it was rented out by a party.
Another Beer Garden in Berlin

Birkenstocks

Did you know that Birkenstocks are made in Germany. I did not, so when my friend took me to a store and birkenstocks were half the going price, I couldn’t help but purchase. And of course the variety is better and you don’t have to worry about if they are genuine because you are getting them from the source.

Food

I saved the best for last. I was in Vegan Heaven. If you are Vegan, you will fall in love with Germany. The food was my favorite part of my stay in Germany. I found great vegan food in each of the three cities: Koln, Hannover and Berlin! I’m not just talking about vegan junk food either. This country had the most variety of vegan food than any other country I have traveled to so far. If for no other reason, this is reason enough to add Germany to your list of countries to visit.

My husband who is not vegan also enjoyed the vegan food. Outside of the vegan food, he was not impressed with the Currywurst, Weisswurst or apple struedel, which are three things Germany is supposed to be known for. But this is because he expected too much. We both enjoyed the Bavarian pretzels, mustard and beer though.

Favorite Vegan Restaurant in Koln, Germany
Inside Sattgrun
Look at all that delicious Vegan food- no animals allowed
Died and gone to vegan Heaven! I usually do not like my food to touch but I’ll make an exception here.
A whole donut shop just for vegans!
Vegan Thai Berlin
More Vegan Thai
Best vegan junk food Berlin Mall
Plant Heaven
YUMMY!

I really enjoyed Germany. I can’t say enough about the vegan scene. Visiting my friend, Reem, her husband and baby girl Rhea, who opened their home to us for two nights in Hannover was a bonus. Meeting up with another friend, Alyssa, in Berlin was fun too. Seeing Pink in concert in Cologne was a dream come true. Even though Germany was never on my list of places to visit, there was one specific moment when I knew Germany would forever hold a special place in my heart. That moment was when Darryl and I got off the airplane in Germany and while walking through the airport we stopped at the supermarket and saw the most Alpro products we had ever seen in our lives. The fact that an airport supermarket had vegan products sealed the deal for me. I’m excited to experience some other places in this world that may not be on my list because you never know ’til you go!

Supermarket – Vegan section !
U.S. Embassy is located close to the Memorial of the Murdered Jews in Berlin
Great time with my friend Alyssa
The other reason I went to Germany- to visit my friend Reem

Questions you may have

Where did we stay and how was the stay? In Koln, we stayed at Hotel Lyskirchen. The room was small but the location was great. We also stayed in the Ameron Koln Hotel Regent on the day of the Pink concert. This hotel was nice and within a 30 minute walk to the RheinEnergie Stadion. It’s restaurant is pricey but the drinks are stiff. In Hannover- We stayed with my friend. In Berlin, we stayed at the Pestana Berlin Tiegarten. This hotel is very nice too but a little far from the sites.

How did we get between the cities? We flew into Koln via Rome. We took a train from Kol’n to Hannover- about a 3 hour ride. We took a train from Hannover to Berlin- about 1.5 hours. We took a plane from Berlin back to Qatar- about 6 hours. As mentioned the public transportation is great in Germany. You can take Ubers and regular taxis within the city as well.

What was my favorite vegan restaurant? In Koln- Sattgrun. Hands down the best vegan restaurant I ate at in Germany. I ate there both days I was in Koln. Others- Hommage (for breakfast). In Hannover- We didn’t really eat out here but I enjoyed shopping for vegan foods in the market. In Berlin- There were many but if I have to narrow it down to one, I would say: Vedang Plant Burger in Berlin Mall. They even had a Mary Jane CBD burger. Others- Dolores California Gourmet Burritos.

How did you find the people? My friend who resides in Germany says she has experienced some racism being from middle-eastern descent and the German people are very prideful, especially the older folk. She told me about an incident where she tried to help this older German woman who had fallen and the women hit her in response. Outside of people providing a service, we didn’t have much interaction with other people. We found the people of Germany to be pleasant, not the most friendliest but not unkind either. They were helpful when asked questions and as African Americans we didn’t experience any mistreatment from anyone. Most people spoke English too and if they didn’t they asked someone who did.

I would love to hear from my readers. What place have you visited that surprised you? What place should I add to my list that may surprise me- has to have good vegan food-?

At Herrenhauser Garten

Visiting Italy: A Dream Come True, Part 5: When in Rome…

There is so much to see and do in Rome it is difficult to know where to start. We spent 10 days in Rome, at the end of June into the first few days of July. We took a train from Santa Lucia Venice Train Station to Rome Termini. The ride was about 4.5 hours. The weather was good outside of the unprecedented heat wave that swept through Italy.

Accommodation

We stayed in Trastevere, which is in the 13th Rione of Rome, on Villa della Scala. It’s located on the West Bank of the Tiber river. We had a 3 bedroom Airbnb to fit our party of 5. The apartment was not the best but the location was everything especially with Donkey Punch- a bar and restaurant, right below us. Trastevere is definitely the place to stay for young adults. It is also a good starting point for seeing the sights. Most of the sights are within an hour walking distance from Trastevere. And even though an hour seems far to be walking, there is much to see along the way to the sights. There is no such thing as boring walks in Rome. Trastevere is filled with party spots, bars, restaurants, and boutique stores. You’re bound to find something different here. During the day, it’s quiet but it comes alive at night.

Sights

We opted to do our own guided tours since we had so much time in Rome anyway. We used Google Maps to plan our trips and map out proximity of each sight that we wanted to see. Sights that were close to each other we clumped together.

On the first day of our walking tour, we visited the Pantheon and 3 squares: Campo De Fiori- a marketplace square, Piazza Navona- a large square with 3 beautiful fountains including the Fountain of Neptune and a large Egyptian obelisk and Piazza Del Popolo- an urban square with the Obelisco Flaminio (a large obelisk) and 2 fountains- many of the tours meet in this square. All three of these squares were on our way to Villa Borghese-a landscape garden with museums and attractions and a killer view of Rome. If you can climb the stairs and there are many of them, you will not be disappointed. After visiting the park, we walked to the Spanish Steps and admired the interesting architecture. But while we sat there taking pictures, I wondered why everyone visited these steps anyway. They are just steps. However, I am happy that we visited when we did because a few weeks later there was a ban placed on people sitting on the Steps due to the damage they were incurring. At the foot of the steps is the Fountain of the Old Boat and some boutique stores and designer shops. A 10 minute walk later, we arrived at the Trevi Fountain. It just kind of appeared out of no where. It’s like it sits right in the middle of everything. It is everything you’ve heard, absolutely beautiful. It’s huge!! For me, it was a highlight of Rome indeed. We couldn’t really enjoy it because it was so crowded. As soon as one person got up from taking their pictures another person sat down. We decided to visit the fountain again, but this time we went at night. We went at midnight in fact, sat a while and had a drink. I would highly recommend this. It was cooler and fewer people. Seeing it all lit up was even more stunning. There was plenty of room to sit and marvel. A wedding proposal happened there that night too. And of course Darryl and I tossed some coins into the fountain together and smooched. A 30 minute walk from the Fountain will put you at the Colosseum. We observed from the outside and this was the only place that I wished we had booked a tour to see the inside. Our 5 hour walking tour on this day cost us nothing except for a cone of sorbet.

On our next day of touring, we headed to the Holy See, which was on the opposite side of the River Tiber than the previously mentioned sights. We saw St. Peters Basilica and had a glimpse of the garden within Vatican City. The Vatican is where we saw the most tourist. And if I could rewind time I would do this visit a whole lot differently. We arrived at the Vatican around 9:00 a.m. and headed for the entrance. What we got instead was a line curling all the way around the corner. It was very hot but we were not about to leave Rome having missed the most holy place of Christian worship. So we stood in line, on one of the hottest days in Europe for almost 3 hours and we were not alone. We paid when we entered the Vatican and purchased the audioguide. The Museum was beyond crowded, too crowded to even enjoy the experience actually. I just kept thinking, this has to be a violation of a fire code. The entire time was spent shuffling through the crowds like we were in a herd. Museum attendants directed traffic. Tour groups and individuals were squashed together. It was not a pleasant experience, but an experience nonetheless. Finally we made it to the Sistine Chapel. Biblical events come to life in paintings all over this room and especially the ceiling. Historical figures painted in their likeness. It is very awe-inspiring, that one man, Michelangelo could create something so magnificent in a short period of 4 years. A work of art that he considered far inferior to his other art forms. Seeing this was worth the time spend in line in the heat. However if you can find and afford a private tour during off hours DO IT!! This way you can enjoy the entire experience and marvel at all of the artwork on display and a lot of the works we missed. [You aren’t allowed to take pictures of the Sistine Chapel but I managed to sneak a few].

My son attends Temple University in Philadelphia and they have a campus in Rome so we went there as well. The campus is very small and if you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t even know it was there. We also tried to visit the Museum of Criminology but it is permanently closed.

Outside of Temple Rome campus
The Temple Alumni and student

Other Things to Do in Rome

City touring of historical sights is great and all but I was overdue for some fun in the sun. A 30 min walk to the S. Pietro train station and a short hour long train ride took us to the outskirts of Rome to the Santa Marinella Beach. It’s a nice beach in a small town surrounded by neighborhood shops and restaurants. The water was cool and the weather was perfect. Santa Marinella Beach is a delightful escape from the hustle and bustle of Rome.

On Sunday, we visited Mercato di Porta Portese, a large flea market, where you can shop for some interesting finds. We also participated in a vegan cooking class. You can find the details by clicking here. The food was great but the limoncello was the best we had in Rome.

On some nights in Trastevere along the Tiber River there are festivals where you can play games, make purchases, eat, hang out or like us- people watch.

The only guided tour we took in Rome was out of Rome to Pompeii. It was a long bus ride but I highly recommend others to take a day trip someplace else while staying in Rome. There are many great places that can be visited with a day trip from Rome. Visiting Pompeii and listening to it’s history was a great experiences. After touring the ruins, we climbed Mt. Vesuvius. This was quite interesting since another volcano erupted close by the following day. It was a tedious hike, but provided a wonderful view of the other island in the distance, if you can endure the trek up the steep incline and rocky road. I just kept thinking of the movie Pompeii. City Wonders was our tour guide company.

Eating Vegan

Much of the food we consumed in Rome, we prepared ourselves after visits to the neighborhood markets: Carrefour and Pam. But of course I searched out some vegan restaurants. I really enjoyed eating at Flower Burger and you know it’s good vegan food if the non-vegans enjoy it as well. We tried out the spicy chickpea, cheesy chickpea, and the flower burger. All were fantastic. Another vegan restaurant I tried was Ecru- fully organic, vegan and raw. A little too raw for my taste and expensive. You can also find a few ice-cream shops that serve vegan ice cream, not just sorbet.

Ten days in Rome was enough time to see the sights and really enjoy all that Rome has to offer. I would like to revisit again but next time I’d like to stay on the outskirts to enjoy more of the countryside of Rome. But for a first timer, when in Rome you must: take in the sights, walk around to appreciate the architecture, try the gelato and definitely take a day trip to one of the other famous cities. There is so much to see and do in Rome, on a visit one could never get bored.

The Doha Metro

With the new Metro system up and running in Qatar, I thought it was about time to try it out. When I moved here 3+ years ago, there wasn’t an established transportation system but the country had began building one. Roads and roundabouts were slowly closing in preparation for the new metro and in conjunction with the 2022 World Cup stadiums being built all over. The Metro is a component of the larger Rail System being built. The transit system became operational in May. The Red, Blue and Gold lines are now open and operating.

We decided to take the metro from our residence to the Flower Festival in Souq Waqif. A major convenience to the metro is it’s MetroLink. It is a free service feeder bus that runs daily and provides first and last mile connectivity to Qatar Rail customers within a 2-5 km radius of the Doha metro stations- https://www.qr.com.qa/metrolink. This is the website where you can find out times, locations and schedules for the Metrolink.

We live in Barwa City and there are a few Metrolink bus stops within our community. We only had to walk about 2 minutes to the nearest stop and it was on time.

The Metrolink took us to the Free Zone station which is between Al-Thumama and Al Wakrah. Once there we were able to purchase our tickets. A single standard ticket cost 2 riyals about $0.55 usd; a day pass cost 6 riyals=$1.60 usd, which is a hell of lot cheaper than a day pass on Septa in Philly which will set you back $9.00 usd.

When you enter the station at the Free Zone, there is a vending machine and map. You have to take an escalator or elevator upstairs, then walk across the bridge that takes you over the highway, then walk back down another escalator to purchase your ticket. Once the ticket is purchased, you go back up another escalator and walk to the train door. Seems like a lot of up and down, up and down, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead for this extra time that will be spent just getting to the train. Fortunately the trains run pretty regularly and there are signs, maps and assistants all over to help.

We had to take the Metro Red Line to Msheireb Interchange station where we transferred to the Gold Line and got off at the Souq. Of course you have to do some more up, down walking to actually get to the Souq. There are several exits that take you up to the Souq but I think we walked out of the wrong one.

After about 45 minutes, from our home in Barwa, we made it to the flower festival.

Last words about the Metro:

It is clean.

Timely, however give yourself a few extra minutes to account for the extra walking.

Official Website https://www.qr.com.qa/home

There is an app for that

There are three different sections on the train cars: standard and family class- cost the same, Gold club (a single journey cost 10 riyals and a day pass cost 30 riyals)

The train cars are small and can get crowded. If you can afford it opt for the gold club to avoid crowds and guarantee yourself a good seat-in the front of the train with a conductors view, private and enclosed.

Please watch your kids.

Stand clear of the doors and let people off of the train before you try to rush on.

Get onto the train quickly as the doors do not wait and will try to crush you.

Clean up behind yourself.

Be careful if you are wearing a thobe or abaya or any other long clothing so that your clothes do not get caught in the escalator or metro doors.

Cruising the Aegion Sea on Royal Caribbean- Greece, Montenegro and Croatia

It’s been over 6 months since my cruise on June 15, 2019. (Sometimes I like to wait to blog about trips which gives me the opportunity go back down memory lane and relive the experiences all over again). The cruise was a part of my “Visiting Italy: A Dream Come True” trip, except the cruise took us to 3 other European Countries: Croatia, Montenegro and Greece. We embarked from Venice on Royal Caribbean’s-(RC) Rhapsody of the Seas ship.

The Room

A little over a month before sailing, I received an email from RC inviting me to participate in the RoyalUp program, where you can bid on an upgraded stateroom for your sailing. Since this was a part of a Dream Come True Summer vacation for me I definitely was interested in going all out, so of course I put in a bid and a month later I received the good news that our bid had been accepted and our room had been upgraded to a Junior Suite. I was very happy about this because our original stateroom was on deck 2 and I prefer to be on a higher deck. In my opinion the lower the deck the more waves you feel. I’m pretty sure I overpaid for this Suite but I had no regrets especially after seeing it and enjoying it for 7 days. Suites are definitely the way to go on cruises. I give the suite an 8 out of 10. In this area- RC takes the crown. However, it is the only cruise line that I’ve stayed in a suite so far.

Our Upgraded Stateroom- Junior Suite

Good Information to Know

‘The Key’: Darryl purchased this added amenity for us which gave us some exclusive benefits: Early drop off and delivery of all of our luggage including carry-on, an exclusive lunch at Chops Grille on boarding day, 1-device each internet usage, private hours at ship activities on port days, priority debarkation and tender service from ship to shore and a la carte breakfast in the Giovanni’s Table on departure day. The Key is worth it.

Alcohol: You can take alcohol on board. Each stateroom may bring up to two 750 ml bottles of wine or champagne on boarding day. You can get creative and carry on additional alcohol in smuggle bottles but that would be illegal. You could also spend a few hundred dollars and buy the alcohol package legally. A deluxe beverage package, including alcohol, could run you any where from $50-90 per day per person. Sometimes they run BOGO specials. We did not purchase a beverage package. You can take on-alcoholic beverages on board as well but they may not exceed 12 standard (17 oz.) cans, bottles or cartons per stateroom. We purchased water on a couple of the ports and were allowed to bring them onboard. In this area Norwegian takes the crown because alcohol was included in our cruise to Cuba.

The Food

Like other cruises food is inclusive. I found the buffet to be pretty good and with many choices for a regular person. For this vegan though, things were a little rough. I spoke to several of the executive chefs and food managers about my preferences and they tried their best to accommodate me but when your kitchen staff is not well trained it is only so much you can do. The service got better as the cruise went on but I pretty much knew I would just have to eat some seafood. I find it such a money grab that the other restaurant’s, that are not included, food is significantly of better quality. For instance, the exclusive lunch at Chops Restaurant, that we got with ‘the Key’, was very good and the one night we splurged and ate at Izumi Japanese restaurant we were blown away by how delicious the food was. I do have to mention other cruise lines that I’ve been on have more late night food options than Royal Caribbean does. It was difficult to find food after 10 pm and almost impossible after midnight especially for a semi-vegan. I would give the food a 6 out of 10. In the area of food and service- Norwegian takes the crown. The attention they gave to me in ensuring I still enjoyed my food as a vegan was amazing. Also I never had to remind the kitchen staff.

Activities

Let me first say, my husband and I do not mind making fools out of ourselves when having a good time. We are very competitive and love a good game. If you do not have fun on cruise ships you are just BORING. Now that, that is out of the way, I found RC’s activities to be very safe, not Risque enough and I found the shows to be lackluster. However, when Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery are on board we always find some fun. The most fun activities hands down were: The 70’s Disco Inferno Street Party, Battle of the Sexes and The Sexiest Man on Board. I may be a little biased because we participated in these. We called ahead of the cruise to find out about the theme nights and the only one that the CSR was sure on was the 70’s Party so we were prepared for that one. Our party of 4 were the only ones properly prepared for this party outside of the crew. We were dressed in our 70’s clothes and afros and cut the rug. We stole the show. In the Battle of the Sexes game show the women won and of course Darryl and I were right in the thick of it all, busting balloons in awkward, sexual positions and getting the crowds applause. I didn’t give my approval for Darryl to participate in the Sexiest Man on Board game after several women came up to him asking and after I became a judge he couldn’t participate anyway lol. I had the punch lines and helped to make the game exciting. Outside of these games the White Night party was fun as well as the International Crew Parade of Flags. I thought the Newlywed game was kind of boring and I don’t think kids should have been allowed in the room. I prefer the All adult crowd games. (I’m looking into the all adult cruise next). The shows on RC were boring and very cheap. I give the activities and shows a 6 out of 10. In this area- Carnival Cruise Line takes the crown; their adult only game show is one not to be missed.

On one of our at sea days, there was a time change and we missed our sushi cooking class. RC was very accommodating and credited our account. On another sea day we purchased the Bottomless Galley Brunch, where we toured the ship galley-kitchen area, had a nice meal and drank unlimited champagne and mimosa. We were even allowed to take a bottle with us to our room. Needless to say, we didn’t do much else that day.

Ports of Call

Our first Port of call was on Fathers’ day and was in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Darryl and I are big Game of Throne fans so we booked an excursion through trip advisor to travel where some scenes from GOT was filmed. It was so exciting seeing this country that GOT basically put on the map and hearing facts about things that occurred during the filming. The most exciting parts were seeing where the ‘Walk of Shame’ took place and comparing the actual location to the scene and hearing that the place is often policed because many people try to reenact the scene of Cersei doing the walk of shame naked. The tour guid also had some props that we used to reenact some scenes.

The next Port of Call was to Kotor, Montenegro. This port was breathtaking. At first all you see is mountains, then you sail inwards and see this hidden island nestled in between them. You must tender to this port- take a smaller boat from the cruise ship to land. We booked the Blue Cave Speed Boat Adventure excursion through RC for this port. We saw caves where submarines were once hidden along the way. There was a small entryway into the cave and cold blue waters. We all climbed out of the boat for a short swim in the grotto. We all wished we could spend more time there but the cave had to be shared with other cave goers. After the cave we went to a beach where we got some food and a few beers. The sun was bright and the beach too rocky to swim but we did not let that keep us from enjoying this beautiful place.

Santorini was our third port of call. We opted to explore this country on our own since it was so pretty and none of the ship excursions appealed to us. This port was also tendered and once we arrived at port we had to take a tram car up the mountain to reach Santorini town. We walked around in and out of shops checking out the merchandise and Roman attire. I found Santorini to be quite expensive but picturesque. If I go again, I will check out trip advisor for some excursions or rent a 4X4 for the day from one of the many shops to see more of the country.

The last port of call was Katakolon, Greece. We booked an excursion with RC to visit Ancient Olympia and Kourouta Beach. We ran where the old olympic games took place and listened to how the old Romans competed in their birthday suits. We saw where they still light the torch to kick off the olympic games. Then we cooled off in the refreshing waters at the beach.

We had a really good time on this cruise and met some very nice people from as far as Australia. RC does try to nickel and dime you for everything and they push the alcohol package big time. Fortunately for us, we had enough of our own alcohol that we only purchased a few beers here and there- we’re not big drinkers. They even charge for fitness classes. I wish the food quality was the same across the board and that more options for eating were available late hours. They can make small improvement like adding popcorn for movie nights. Also they have to get better prepared in serving vegans as more and more people are turning to plant based diets. The pool was too small and there needs to be more adult only options. Highlights for me were the check in and check out procedures, much more efficient than Norwegian, housekeeping was wonderful, the cookies were good lol, the suite was a great size, ‘the key’- great add on, the amount of activities, movies under the stars, staff were nice, bottomless brunch, ports of call and friendships we made.

Sunrise over the Aegion Sea

Black Excellence

I have received many certificates in my life but this one was up there with my Bachelors, not because I had put in a lot of work but because it took a lot of strength for me to come this far.

A few weeks ago, there was an advertisement in the BSOQ group for the Black Excellence ball that was coming up. I considered buying a ticket to attend, but never acted upon this. A few days later I received an email stating that I was nominated for an award, from an anonymous person, and because of my nomination my attendance would be complimentary. So I purchased one ticket for my husband.

I was asked to submit a brief biography of myself to the organizer, The Brofessor. Once I submitted my bio, The Brofessor asked me to mention alopecia in my bio. That is when I realized I was being recognized for being a courageous women with Alopecia. My advocacy for women embracing their bald crown did not go un-noticed. I had impressed inspired someone and my heart was overflowing with humility and pride.

I went all out for my husband and myself. I purchased a dress but decided it wasn’t enough and decided to get a dress professionally made for myself and a jacket and pant suit made for Darryl. I called my girl Nazma, and she hooked me up with a beautiful henna design for my crown and glory. I have received many certificates in my life but this one was up there with my Bachelors, not because I had put in a lot of work but because it took a lot of strength for me to come this far. To be recognized as someone with courage is one of the biggest compliments I could have received.

For years, I was so ashamed and would never think of venturing outside uncovered. Like many other women who live with Alopecia, I was embarrassed more than anything. I still cover my head, mostly in Qatar- where hair is such a sense of pride and any deviation from normalcy is frowned upon-but it is not because I am embarrassed. It is because I don’t always want to be stared at like a zoo animal. I love to stand out but I prefer it be a choice. Alopecia is not a choice. But deciding when to reveal it, is MY choice. Embracing it, other than allowing it to take over my life, depress me and make me feel less than what I am, is MY choice. (There are some positives to having a bald head that I’ll keep to myself.)

But this post isn’t just about me. Many wonderful people were honored and awarded due to their work in Qatar, outside of Qatar and moves they are making. There were many professionals in attendance and not just Black. There were doctors, an Ambassador, a pastor, an opera singer (whom blessed us with a song), photographers, engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers, journalist and so much more! Even a young Achiever in the making was honored. You couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride being among such amazing people and hearing their stories. There was food, dancing, networking and an overall good time. Women shined and men were handsomely dressed in suits and ethnic attire.

The Black Excellence ball was a celebration of Greatness; a time to come together and say: WE SEE YOU! WE HONOR YOU! WE ARE HERE! And above all, WE LOVE YOU!

It is an event not to be missed. I know this event can only get bigger and better and I can’t wait to be in attendance next year!

[click here to view The honorees video]

Eyes Forward

I enjoy having people in my life that I can have deep conversations with, I mean like conversations about goals and future aspirations.

The first break of the school year is here and I have no plans. I think this is the first time since I’ve been here where I didn’t genuinely NEED a break. So far this school year has been wonderful. I am loving my new position and all of the work that has come with it. I think I’ve found my niche, for now anyway. I am one of those people that tire of things after a few years, so we shall see. As the only official elementary Reading Specialist at the school, everything is kind of new. I’ve been allowed to create my own schedule, and order the curriculum that I know works. I’ve been given a lot of autonomy and I feel like a professional again. Working with small groups has been effective for the students and maintaining my own low stress level. Working alone is also rewarding. I have accepted that I work better alone, however I do maintain a professional relationship with the teachers that I work along and we do have a better relationship this year probably due to the distance.

Working outside of the classroom allows for more flexibility to do other things. I’ve been able to attend some Professional Developments of my choice to hone in on some skills. I passed the Level 1 Google Certified Educator exam and am working on Level 2. I facilitated a couple of PD’s as well in Guided Reading and have been supporting the teachers in implementing Guided Reading within the classroom. I’m much happier at work and it shows. I’ve set up my small classroom as a place of zen and solace with positive words, plants, cushions and aromatherapy. Co-workers have been asking me what’s the secret… here’s my answer.

I’m having a great year and I just don’t have space for bullshit.

I chose not to travel during this break instead I stayed home to take care of some appointments and catch up on some rest. I haven’t had a massage in months so I’m going tomorrow and I haven’t been in a gym in about a month either, that has to change and soon. My eyesight is getting worse. I wonder if the bright Qatar sun has anything to do with it or is a combo of age and amount of time spent in front of the television and computer screen. Speaking of Qatar sun, I’m wondering when the weather will break. This girl needs to see some actual rain.

This school year has only just begun but it feels like one of those years that will move very quickly. Already this year, I’ve seen death and new life. I’ve hugged, loved and cried for others. Being so far away is hard sometimes, especially when you can’t physically be there for others in their time of need and have to navigate through difficult situations in a foreign country. Things change, people change, babies are born and people die but life goes on.

As life goes on, I’ve been especially blessed with accomplishing several of my goals and a few of my dreams and here I am in the midst of year 4. It was about 8 years ago when I first thought of this as only a dream but with determination some dreams become goals and with hard work those goals can become reality. Speaking of life, can we take a minute and talk about dreams because the days are long but the years are short. I enjoy having people in my life that I can have deep conversations with, I mean like conversations about goals and future aspirations.

I’m listening…

I actually should have done this years ago but eyes forward, I won’t be able to do what I’m doing forever and neither do I want to so I’ve created a 15 year timeline and I encourage everyone to do the same. This timeline consists of 1 and then 5 year intervals including goals and dreams covering financial, career, family, attitude, artistic, education, physical, living, pleasure and public service. Time to start following the plan, because what good are goals without a plan. What are some of your dreams and goals and what are you doing to get there? Eyes forward, let’s talk about goals.

Life After Detox- Back to Work and In New Spaces

When I left The LifeCo, the last things I wanted to see were juices and salads.  After 5 days of salads and juices, I was done. We ordered a raw bag to go, which consisted of breakfast- Chia pudding with crackers or vegan Turkish breakfast, lunch- Raw wrap or sushi, dinner- hummus wrap or vegetable platter, dessert- brownie, and supplements.  This way we could post-detox appropriately. To detox correctly, you first must pre-detox, then detox of course, post-detox and then eat mindfully and healthier. You have to post-detox to wean yourself back into your regular diet to avoid an upset stomach. You don’t start feeding a baby chicken right away, so treat your body like a baby afterwards and slowly introduce things back into your diet and life.  

Day 1 and day 2 after detox should include raw meals.  On day 3, you can re-introduce starches back into your diet- wheat bread, pasta, but no fried food.  You can begin to incorporate protein back in by day 4 and fish and other things by day 5. You can still eat your guilty pleasure items but in moderation, once or twice a week.  Alcohol, should be minimized to 1-2 glasses of wine or 1 glass of liquor. It is good to drink 2 glasses of water when you first wake up and drink plenty of water throughout the day.  Your water should contain a pH8 or higher. Probiotics are a good supplement to take to help with digestion which in turn will increase your energy.

After detox, I felt weak but I knew that eventually it would be time to return to work, and with work comes stress.  Stress does not only come with work, it comes with life. I know that yoga helps me with stress and so does exercise.  I’ve learned that I need to incorporate more strengthening exercise into my regiment. My plan is to get back to the gym, regularly, find a good yoga class or find a good routine online, lift weights, and continue to run.  Last year, I focused on self-care a lot and I plan to continue my monthly massages, waxes, trips to the nailery and weekly dry brush. I also want to fast at least once a month, even if just for a day. I plan to continue to eat healthy and try not to eat within 3 hours of bedtime.  I had 9 days before the school year started, which gave me time to relax a little, prepare and move to my new flat. 

My new flat has a gym right downstairs and it’s unisex, so hubby and I can work out together.  Who needs a personal trainer, when you have a husband. Our living and dining rooms are bigger, so we can practice yoga here.  It’s also surrounded by grass and trees. Darryl is specifically happy about this and the supermarket which is a 3 minute walk away.  We are thinking about purchasing bikes since there is a running and biking trail.  

Work started a week ago.  The first week is always filled with Professional Development and time to prepare for your new students.  This year, in my new role, I didn’t have all the stresses that come with setting up a new classroom. I feel blessed and extremely positive about the school year.   I set up my new smaller room with an atmosphere of Zen including plants, comfy seating, aromatherapy, inspiring pictures and a minimalist attitude. And to connect the many new faces, I threw a welcoming social at my new place.  Week 1 is over and we have a one week break for the Islamic holiday of Eid. I am not traveling; I am relaxing and preparing for a fresh new start.